Beer and wine might be available for some fans attending UNM football and basketball games next season.
A court arbitrator ruled that the Albuquerque City Council improperly denied UNM’s request for a waiver of state law that bans alcohol sales within 300 feet of a school. The council’s decision prevented alcohol sales to club-level fans at UNM athletic events.
The city and UNM later agreed to binding arbitration regarding the City Council’s decision to deny UNM’s liquor license applications, UNM spokeswoman Susan McKinsey said.
“The University is pleased to have resolved this issue amicably with the city,” she said in statement.
The city is looking into whether it can appeal the decision and will find out later this week.
UNM needed the waiver to process its liquor license request with the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department.
The state will now decide whether the University can sell alcohol at The Pit and University Stadium to fans in club-level suites only. UNM dropped its request to serve alcohol at special events in the Student Union Building, McKinsey said.
In November, the City Council voted 6-3 to deny UNM’s waiver request. Councilors cited public safety concerns, the need for more officers to patrol surrounding areas after games and unfair treatment toward certain fans as reasons for denying the request.
Court arbitrator William Lang ruled the city’s decision was inconsistent because alcohol is served at Isotopes Park during UNM baseball games. The ballpark is across the street from UNM’s two major sports venues.
“The city had no competent evidence from which it might reasonably conclude that the (University) did not meet its burden in establishing solid grounds for the waiver,” the ruling states.
Council President Ken Sanchez voted in November to turn down UNM’s liquor license bid. He said that he was dissappointed that the city attorney did not notify the council that the issue went to arbitration.
“I think it’s an issue of discrimination,” he said. “Why should elite and those who can afford an upper-box suite … be served alcohol when somebody who is paying $17 for a ticket will not be able, too?”
Council member Brad Winter supported UNM’s request, and he said the city’s administration should not make the final decision to appeal the decision. He said the City Council should take the measure up again.
“It might be time to call some councilors who voted against it and see if we can appeal our decision,” Winter said. “We can’t do jurisdiction over state land. When you serve alcohol at Isotopes Park, what safety issues are there that are any different than at The Pit?”
McKinsey said UNM would coordinate efforts with city police to ensure fans leave games safely, but concluded DWIs might not be an issue because only a small number of people could receive alcohol service.
Club-level suites account for about 10 percent of the stadium’s seating capacity, said Tim Cass, associate athletics director. UNM ignored councilors’ request to extend alcohol service to all patrons in club level and box suites at The Pit and University Stadium.
Beer taps, which were installed at various club-level locations, could be activated next season.
Winter said selling alcohol will help the University make money.
“It can help pay off the bond debt,” he said. “If you get private dollars to help pay a public debt, there shouldn’t be any problem.”
To the contrary, Sanchez said, it is a problem.
“I just think its the wrong thing to be serving alcohol at a collegiate event where you’ve got 14,500 fans at The Pit for a basketball game, and if the football team starts winning again, 30,000 fans at football games,” he said. “I just don’t think its necessary.”